Bobby McMann’s NHL debut with Maple Leafs rests on Auston Matthews’ health

Newly promoted forward Bobby McMann discusses how cool it is for him just to skate and be a part of the Maple Leafs, but says no real decision has been made on whether he'll be making his NHL debut, but will be ready if his name is called.

TORONTO – Not once but twice Monday, Bobby McMann had to dial up his father, Cecil, to deliver the good news.

During the day, Toronto Marlies coach Greg Moore informed the late-blooming McMann that he had been crowned AHL player of the week, after piling up six points in three outings and extending his point streak to six games.

Cecil’s second call from his 26-year-old son came deep in the evening, when Bobby got an even better message from Marlies GM Ryan Hardy.

He was getting called up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

They needed him to practise Tuesday and — possibly — suit up for his long-awaited NHL debut Wednesday versus the Nashville Predators.

“Your blood’s pumping a little more. You’re a little bit more energy,” McMann says of his reaction. “Late at night, I was just kind of relaxing a little bit. Hard to get to sleep last night.

“It’s definitely a good day.”

McCann’s first call was to dad: “He was ecstatic.”

His second was to mom Connie: “She was just as excited.”

Whether the undrafted McMann rides this momentum all the way from the ECAC (Colgate University) to the ECHL (Wichita Thunder, Newfoundland Growlers) to the AHL to the best hockey league in the world depends on the health of Auston Matthews.

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The Maple Leafs were granted a full rest day Monday after sweeping their weekend back-to-back, but their top centre still needed Tuesday off for maintenance.

With defenceman T.J. Brodie shifted to injured reserve, McMann was recalled.

Third-liner Pierre Engvall took reps on the top line with temporary centre William Nylander and left wing Michael Bunting, while the six-foot-two, 208-pound McMann slotted into Engvall’s vacant wing beside David Kämpf and Alexander Kerfoot.

If Matthews is unable to dress, McMann skates.

“I’ll be ready,” a smiling McMann beams from the centre of an NHL dressing room.

“It’s pretty hard to picture, that’s for sure. Just excited to hopefully get on the ice in a game at one point here. Whether that’s tomorrow or in the future, this season, or whatever. Just excited to skate and be a part of it. And hopefully get a win.”

McMann falls into a category coach Sheldon Keefe terms “free draft choices” — overage free agents the resource-rich Maple Leafs pull into their well-appointed system. The hope is both the athlete and the development staff pour enough effort into refining raw, untapped skill that the guy who somehow slipped through the cracks becomes a meaningful contributor at the minor or major pro level.

(Mason Marchment, now with Dallas, is a shining example. Prospect Alex Steeves, the 23-year-old who earned three games with the Leafs last season, is another one.)

“[McMann] is a player that we really like,” Keefe says. “I don’t think age or draft status or contract status really comes into play as much as you’re just trying to get better.”

McMann describes his alphabet-soup journey (AJHL to ECAC to ECHL to AHL to NHL) as “a grind.” The Wainwright, Alta. native had options as a UFA; he chose Toronto because of its track record of elevating players on the cusp.

“You look at the development staff they have here and the types of people and the way that they do things, it’s top tier. It’s as good as it gets in the league,” McMann said.

“I want to take advantage of that and put it to my development and grow as a player and then eventually try and help this team.”

Leafs GM Kyle Dubas was bullish on the forward after he set a Marlies rookie goal-scoring record (24) in 2021-22 and trained in the club’s facility all summer long, learning from the gym habits of Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin.

Toronto was hopeful the straight-line forechecker might steal a bottom-six spot in training camp, but McMann’s engine took a while to get up to speed. A groin injury didn’t help.

Now, with eight goals and 15 points through 17 games, McMann is humming.

“It’s definitely been hard at times, where you have that self-doubt,” McMann says. “But recently it’s been working out for me — and I’m super excited.”

McMann’s greatest asset?

“Definitely my speed,” he says. “I play with speed, try and be physical, get in on the forecheck and try to shoot the puck if I get it.”

Cecil and Connie would love nothing more than to see Bobby shoot the thing on an NHL sheet.

“They’re looking at flights. They’re in Alberta right now, so it’s not easy on short notice,” McMann says.

“But they’re trying to make it.”

One-Timers: Following tests Monday, Brodie has been placed on injured reserve with a rib injury. The Maple Leafs are 10-0-3 without him in the lineup. Keefe says the defenceman should not be sidelined “too long.”… Wayne Simmonds played his first game in nearly a month Sunday in Philadelphia and finished a plus-1 in 8:31 worth of ice time. He’ll be headed back to the press box Wednesday…. The playoff-bubble Predators are coming into town hot, having won four straight.

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